Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
While the fury of Sivian’s fists bore down on Mikarik, so far Officer Meslina had hung back. Whether she was just here to make sure they didn’t do anything too stupid or because she wanted him softened up before she joined in, it was foolish, and she gave up the only advantage they had over him.
Sivian was clearly getting frustrated with Mikarik’s makeshift shell, the Nabak’s blows landing harder all around Mikarik’s arms and some getting through to the top of his head, sparks shooting in front of Mikarik’s eyes whenever one landed. Through the gap in his elbow bends Mikarik could see Meslina come closer with the metal door jack, her expression cold and hard. No, apparently there had been no intention to stop any foolishness today.
Allowing a few members of the Forseti’s crew to let off some steam if it meant they’d be out of his hair when the real part of his mission began was one thing. But Mikarik had no appetite for being bludgeoned into unconsciousness and launched out the airlock into some nameless star before he had a chance to complete it.
Mikarik sensed a short gap in Sivian’s constant blows. The Nabak had just raised both arms over his head for a strike when Mikarik exploded out of his semi-crouch, leading with his head and smashing into Sivian’s face. The forehead bumps on a Thorian may have been an easy target of jokes, but they hid underneath a skull thicker than any sentient in the Known Reaches.
Meslina was momentarily startled by the outburst, but then brought the rod with a vicious upward momentum towards Mikarik’s chin. Just in time, Mikarik slammed his left forearm down on the approaching door jack, sending a sharp pain towards his elbow but otherwise knocking it out of Officer Meslina’s hand. The forearms too, were something they shouldn’t have underestimated, as Eframe would discover momentarily. The Human came at Mikarik immediately after Meslina and was met with a straight arm across his jaw, crumpling to the floor.
Mikarik tried to make a grab for the fallen door jack but Sivian, having shaken off the previous headbutt, repeated his earlier maneuver, and jabbed his tusks into Mikarik’s stomach. This time, the Thorian brought his head down, making contact with the top of Sivian’s skull and causing the Nabak to drop under Mikarik’s legs. The loss of balance and the follow-through that bent Mikarik forward cost him. He heard the dull thud first, and then the pain in his side from where the metal rod struck him to bring him to his knees.
Officer Meslina wasted no time, raising the rod over her head and taking a step toward him. A step that brought her too close.
The restraint in the tightlipped grunt of pain she let out was almost admirable. The sound her leg made when Mikarik’s forearm made contact, and the fact that she immediately went down on one knee, suggested that he accomplished exactly what he set out to do, and broke a bone.
There was relative silence in the galley now, save for the ringing in Mikarik’s ears, his and Officer Meslina’s laboured breathing, and the hardly audible groaning of Sivian and Eframe who were in no shape to move their heads just yet. Mikarik wondered in an oddly distant manner as to what was occurring in his body in the place that Meslina struck him. Listening intently to his pain though, he concluded that it could have been much worse. Sheepishly moving forward on his hands and knees likewise caused no additional sharp pains, which meant his ribs were likely intact. So he decided to keep going on all fours, ignoring the indignity of it, all the way out the galley. But before he undertook that journey, his big Thorian mouth needed one final workout.
“Listen, I know you don’t really care to be hearing my voice, but seeing as you don’t have much choice, I’m going to say it anyway.” He talked slowly and in a hoarse whisper, and any breaths that were too deep let themselves be known as additional jabs in his side. “I think we’ve all firmly established here that I’m a Thorian, and nothing is going to change that fact. You want to hurt me, fine, but it’s not going to hurt the Empire. Letting me do my mission, on the other hand, might actually give you a fighting chance to stand up to the Empire when it finally notices you. So how about you let me be me, even if part of that is being a Thorian, because let’s face it, I’m not filing these off my forehead any time soon.”
Mikarik looked behind his shoulder at Meslina, who was sitting with her broken leg stretched in front of her and the other crossed underneath it, her eyes still hard, but studying him less like prey and more a curiosity. Even in this position, she was still the picture of a Navy Officer, back straight, look severe, mouth in a tight line, her pressed uniform hardly out of place, dark green with black clasps and black trim as well as three golden bands around the upper arm, and on the breast, the symbol of their species – a red firebird rising up from the ashes. She chose to say nothing, which was fine by Mikarik, who at this point attempted to stand up, which was considerably worse for his pain but a significant improvement to his dignity.
Walking out of the galley was out of the question, but hobbling out was doable, which is exactly what he did, past the sprawled bodies of Sivian and Eframe and all the way to his quarters. As far as he could tell, he was issued a standard crew cabin – a fold-down bed, a wall-length “window” into a passing landscape of one’s choosing, a desk, a couple of hardy plants, and a private restroom. He wondered if the Captain’s quarters had its own private stand-up shower, while the rest of them had to contend with the three found in the common area of the ship, though those stalls had on multiple occasions made him thankful for Head Engineer’s Ishikawa’s diligence, since these were always the first to go on board any ship.
The shower, though, tempting as it was since it was guaranteed to be unoccupied, would have to wait. The moment he saw his bed unfold, he lay down on his back and could no longer form an intention to get up, except to shift slightly onto his side to avoid putting weight where Meslina struck him with the door jack.
In this position, he discovered that his sleeve was wet. As he rolled it up, Mikarik’s first thought was that he was bleeding and on closer inspection revised the diagnosis to “had been bleeding”. This could wait. The exhaustion that comes in the wake of receding adrenaline crashed upon him in full force and his eyes grew heavy despite the pain. It was all fine. They had their fill; both in terms of dishing and receiving, so he’d bought himself some peace.
Even so, he realized that until that day, he’d forgotten how good it felt to fight.
As I suspected when I last talked about this, my fantasy web novel, The Second Magus, would not be making its debut in mid-November. The bottleneck remains editing, because even though since last December I had been able to write nearly 70K words, I don’t have any chapters yet that I think are polished enough for publication, let alone having a comfortable enough buffer to launch.
One of the reasons that last September’s relaunch of The Bloodlet Sun, my first web novel, has led to a steady stream of updates over the course of the last year, was because I launched with a hefty buffer. I have since slightly eaten into that buffer, but I credit that lack of pressure for my ability to keep up and maintain interest in the project since then.
So I knew that if I was going to do another web novel that I would make sure I did everything right, even if it means pushing it back by another couple of months.
The good news is, I’ve done enough to now be reasonably certain in when I’m going to be ready, so I want to officially announce that The Second Magus will launch on Royal Road on January 22, 2022 (barring any unexpected delays in Royal Road’s queue). Very happy to be committing myself to a date, and can’t wait to share this one with the world. It had been a fun little side project that really grew on me since I started writing it.
I have to say though this has been one of my biggest exercises in patience. I had intended for it to have a quick and dirty release sometime last this spring, and like I mentioned earlier, I’ve actually been working on this for almost a year now. I’m the kind of person who’s tempted by a quick reward but I’ve been holding back because I wanted to make sure the work product was good.
Well, now we have a release date and it’s only 3 months until I publish the prologue of my first real attempt at a piece of fantasy fiction.
Can’t wait to share it with you guys, and stay tuned for the official synopsis blurb coming out here sometime in November.
Sivian and Eframe approached Mikarik’s table with such a swaggering gait he thought it would be appropriate for them to strip down to their primal vestments and swing their genitals to-and-fro as a form of intimidation. Meslina, on the other hand, was career military and moved with a slower dignity, arriving at the exact same destination beside his booth. The forkful of food, that up until then hung in the air, was finally lowered to Mikarik’s plate in defeat.
“Really?” Mikarik sighed. “Are we really doing this?”
“You’re going to pay for what you and your people have done,” Sivian said.
“I’ve been paying for that my whole life, who appointed you my official debt collector?” Mikarik asked, pushing his plate away.
“Get up!” Eframe snapped and slammed his open palm against Mikarik’s table, though the Thorian refused to flinch and briefly glanced at the descended hand with disdain.
“What? You’re not going to wait for more of your friends to show up? At least try to make it a fair fight?” There was no emotion in his voice other than amusement, something he hoped the others would notice as well.
It was only then that he spotted the manual door jack by Sivian’s side, a hefty metal rod about two feet in length. Mikarik eyed it skeptically for a few moments then looked up.
“So you did bring reinforcements, that should help even it out a bit, though I doubt it’ll be enough.”
Mikarik thought that surely that would be sufficient for them to make the first move. He counted the ways in which they could lash out, the ways in which he could stop them, use his own Thorianness to his advantage against opponents who were not familiar with his strengths and weaknesses because they were not also their own. It wasn’t his first time being cornered. It wasn’t the first time he had to account for the nearest exits ahead of time. But he promised that it would be the first time that he got to leave on his own terms.
“So why aren’t we getting this over with?” Mikarik looked at Meslina, who had been silent until that moment. “They’re waiting for you, aren’t they? What’s it to you, though, Officer Meslina? Wouldn’t your Captain be upset that you cost him his Thorian?”
“You shouldn’t be here.” She spoke with a distinct voice; quiet but with a hint of a creek, as if her patience was always on the verge of snapping.
“There we can find some common ground.”
“Shut up.” Again, this was said softly with the implied threat that it would be the last time. “Nothing about your presence on this ship makes sense. You take us to the wormhole and then what? And why parade you in front of the whole crew? Why not put you into cold storage, and pull you up only when needed?” There was a definite note of malicious pleasure as she made that suggestion, so much so that Mikarik’s forearms started to itch.
“Would that be any way to treat a guest?”
“You’re not a guest here, Mikarik, you know that. So why are you here?”
“You know why I’m here.”
“No, I don’t think I do.” Her narrow eyes, their shape accentuated by the wrinkles radiating from their outer corners, regarded him shrewdly. “I don’t think anyone does. We’re told why you’re here. And we’re asked to hold our noses and close our eyes, and just believe it. Maybe Captain Pueson does, I don’t know. All I know is, this is our ship, and I need to protect our crew.”
“No. That whole thing about protecting your crew? You’re borrowing Commander Stevin’s line.” Mikarik leaned slightly forward across the table, knowing this is the first time Officer Meslina would have had a good unobstructed look into his eyes. “You lost someone. That’s what this is for you.” For the most part, Humans were an open book, emotions exaggerated and easy to read. Not this one though, she knew how to keep her face still, her eyes stern, her thin lips pressed into a straight line with just the slightest curl at the corners of her mouth. Still he’d met enough of them; not Human, but others, at far away outposts, at waystations, on freighters – those who came across the business end of the Anthar Kai or the Empire itself, those whose pain yearned to manifest into something, and for whom Mikarik provided a convenient outlet.
“So who was it?” Mikarik asked, looking into her dark brown eyes that were hooded just slightly by their upper eyelids. “A parent? Maybe a sibling.” Her face didn’t flinch, but something was brewing behind her expression, he could tell. “During the Nabak Insurrection? No, this goes deeper. The Last Gasp, most likely.” Meslina extended her hand and Sivian passed her the door jack. “Someone you know died so that those feathered bastards could mostly maintain their borders, right?”
“Get up,” she told him almost calmly – a simple command that could not be disobeyed.
Mikarik stood and faced her. Maybe if he kept walking right past her, he’d be able to leave. But who was he kidding? He knew something like this was likely to happen, and still he came.
The fact that he had his back turned to the other two didn’t deter them; a Thorian didn’t warrant a fair fight. In a way, he was lucky that it was Eframe that decided to strike first. Tall for a Human and nearly Mikarik’s height, he used his size wildly and telegraphed his sucker punch from such a distance that Mikarik could practically hear Eframe’s fist whistling through the air. It gave Mikarik a chance to turn, and glance the hit off his forearm.
Sivian, though shorter in stature, was in possession of four tusks, two on either side of his mouth, and he used them to his advantage by ramming his face into Mikarik’s side. Mikarik grunted, likely giving Sivian no small amount of satisfaction, and though he didn’t feel like the Nabak’s tusks had managed to puncture him, the pain around Mikarik’s ribs did provide enough distraction for Eframe to land a few good punches, causing Mikarik to retreat into a defensive stance, protecting his face with his forearms.
Mikarik favouring his upper body gave Sivian another opening, and this time the Nabak ran into Mikarik’s stomach and almost lifted him off the ground before pushing him against the table. Thankful though Mikarik was that the evolution of the Nabak had mercifully cut down their ancient weapons so that he did not wind up fully gored, Mikarik quickly discovered that there was a lot of rage packed into those short muscular Nabak arms.
Late last week, literary Twitter exploded with one of the stupidest arguments that I’d ever seen and, as the Russian saying goes “a pig will find mud”, I decided to wade in.
Apparently, what all the brouhaha started with was someone claiming that if the author hasn’t hooked them within the first 20 pages, then they immediately drop the book. Granted, this is a completely arbitrary cut off that doesn’t give legitimate slow burns a fare shake. I’m not going to defend this particular opinion. But the rebuttal to this that ended up getting retweeted into every corner of the universe basically said that not finishing a book is an insult to the author, and the least you could do is finish whatever you started.
Of course, this is literary and writing Twitter we’re talking about, where people say the most asinine shit for engagement. My two favourite examples are “Am I the only one that gets excited when I sell a book?” and “My friend told me they think only people with blue eyes make good authors, do you agree?” However, this accusation of insulting authors struck the perfect balance between being outrageous, and sounding perfectly serious.
That tweet really packed a two-for-one punch. Form the perspective of readers, it reeked of snobbishness – as if because you managed to commit to the whole of War and Peace after getting ten pages into, it somehow makes you a more respectful reader. All it does is further discourage those intimidated by such pieces of literature because it makes them feel like they’d be looked down on if they don’t end up finishing it. Well, if a cockroach looks down on you, does that really affect your day?
And from the perspective of authors, this seems to have both arrogance and insecurity all wrapped into one – like a reader owes it to you to finish your book as long as they started it, and if they drop it, well, that’s not your fault, it’s the reader bestowing upon you a great dishonour. How utterly rude of them. Or you could think about it this way – at best, there’s no such thing as a book loved by everyone, or at worst, don’t write a garbage book and people might be less likely to put it down in the first ten pages.
I really do have to hand it to that inflammatory – it was some kind of provocative work of art in its own right; based on a completely ludicrous premise. How would the author even know that I didn’t finish their book that I bought in order to even be insulted by me. The tweet managed to illuminate so many ugly opinions when it comes to reading. One rebuttal to people saying that their time is too precious to waste on books they don’t like was “Well if your time is worth so much to you, what are you doing on Twitter?” Apparently, we’re not allowed to have fun until we’ve finished torturing ourselves with hundreds of pages of writing we don’t want to read.
It’s like if you went to a nice restaurant and your food came way too salty, and you didn’t want to finish it, and then I accused you of being rude to the chef, and you said “But I only eat food that is good” and my rebuttal was that I saw you eating at McDonalds last week.
The amount of people who seemed to be extremely emotionally invested in how other people spend their time is astounding. Makes me think that it all boils down to some misplaced sense of superiority – these people don’t read books because they enjoy it or because they get something out of it, they read because they think they can lord it over someone who didn’t.
“Well I am on a whole other level, for I have read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and you have not.”
Well I read it in the original Russian, and it was an awful experience, so go hang out at the kids’ table you thought you were setting up for everyone else, and I’ll hang out with the people who don’t have sticks lodged up their butts. And this is coming from someone who insists on finishing every book he opens; not as a matter of principle, but more as a result of a deep person flaw. I just don’t think it makes a difference if you start ten and finish ten or if you start ten and finish one. Same as it doesn’t make a difference if you read two books a year, or fifty two, or if you’re reading genre fiction off the shelves of your grocery store, or the greatest Lithuanian authors of the pre-Soviet era.
Read what you want, read what brings you joy, and don’t let any Twitter gatekeepers make you feel bad about any of it.
Neither Mikarik nor Sivian, the ship’s Nabak engineer, had expected or particularly enjoyed their first meeting, a week into the Forseti’s journey. When he’d accepted this assignment, Mikarik had expected the Humans to keep him on a short leash, practically confining him to house arrest in his quarters. So he was as surprised as the crew of the Forseti to see that he was given immediate free reign of the ship apart from the bridge. The Forseti wasn’t a particularly large vessel, so there were only so many places his wanderings could take him. Towards the end of that first week, he had decided to visit the engine room and take a glimpse at the black pearl at the heart of the starship.
While Mikarik found that most treated the ancient substance with a sense of detachment – a technology forged by beings long since moved on from the Known Reaches, he had always seen something kindred in the dark spheres, an organic presence, if not a silent sentience. He had the kind of respect for them that could not be afforded to a simple machine and when he first laid eyes on the one that ran the Forseti, Mikarik realized that this particular specimen deserved a level of respect he’d never given a black drop before.
As he watched it struggle in the containment field deep in the back of the ship’s engines, Mikarik could tell this one had clearly seen some things and came with a long rich history of abuse at the hands of inexperienced and careless handlers. If this was the poor drop that was supposed to power the Forseti’s subspace skimmer and also to throw up the dark cloak of dispersing energy that should have kept them off Thorian sensors as they weaved their way through the Empire, then perhaps death would come sooner than expected. The engineers on duty mostly avoided him as he watched the drop strain and groan under the pressure. The only exception was a Human named Kamira Shim who said “Hello” with a slight nod, and seemed to wonder if she should ask him what he was doing there before thinking better of it. Another one by the name of Eframe Gonsyn ignored him entirely, but with so much intention that he might as well have been shining a spotlight on Mikarik.
“If you’d called earlier, I would have given you the grand tour.” Mikarik turned around and found Chief Engineer Aimi Ishikawa standing at the head of the engines, her expression not bothering to hide anything about how she regarded his presence there.
“Oh wait, no,” Ishikawa said, her one hand grasping her personal tablet while the other one motioned chaotically about her, “There it is.”
“It’s an impressive ship,” Mikarik said.
“It most definitely isn’t,” the Chief Engineer responded, approaching a panel and comparing it to something on her tablet. “If you’re trying to find something flattering to say, don’t bother. And if you think this is representative of other ships in the Outer Rim Confederacy fleet, don’t get your Thorian hopes up.”
Mikarik couldn’t help but smile, though Ishikawa, eyes fixated on her work, wouldn’t have seen.
“Well it certainly is an interesting ship,” he said.
“That, Mr. Mikarik, we can at least agree on.”
“‘Mikarik’ is fine.”
“‘Mikarik’, sure. Look, I don’t know what purpose you have for this visit other than, you know, to be in my general vicinity, but we are really busy right now and –”
“Hey Chief I think I’ve figured out what’s been overriding our system –” The Nabak looked up from his tablet and stopped dead in his tracks, black eyes focused on Mikarik as sharply as his tusks.
“Gitang it,” Ishikawa muttered. “Sivian? Why don’t you take the rest of your shift off? I’ll see you back here tomorrow.”
Sivian didn’t move and Mikarik could hear his breathing from the other side of the engines, despite their constant hum. He inclined his head slightly towards Sivian and the Chief Engineer, said “It was nice meeting you,” and headed towards the exit. Sivian though was going to make it as inconvenient as possible, standing with his stalky wide frame in the middle of the passage. All Mikarik had to do was pass by him, say nothing, and everything would be fine. That’s what he promised himself.
Just as he was passing Sivian, trying not to make eye contact, the Nabak growled, “What’s the matter, Thorian? Didn’t think you’d actually have to come face-to-face with one of us?”
Mikarik was tempted to tell Sivian how the Insurrection ended for him, but the truth was the person who deserted the Thorian Navy was the same person who’d shot down Nabak starfighters. And even though it’s been years, Mikarik still wasn’t sure which of those people was the real him. His people accumulated their share of sins; to be expected from the oldest Empire in the Known Reaches. But they were not the only ones who spilled blood to achieve their goals and despite their shared emotional kinship that bound them across the aether, they were not opposed to turning that energy inward either. He could still clearly see the explosion against the clear skies of Sankoal, the wreckage of the freighter raining down into the waters of the bay. Why was he the one made to answer the call, when others had just as much to answer to and more?
“Face it, Sivian, if it had been the Hatvan instead of us, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Mikarik said, the cumulation of his frustrations amounting to nothing more than a deflection.
“What was that, Thorian?” A dangerous note had entered the Nabak’s voice.
“Nothing, Sivian. Enjoy your day off.”
‘Nothing’ is what he should have said in the first place. Mikarik realized that later, once those first few weeks had passed and he discovered that his lashing out wasn’t making life easier for anyone, including himself. Amongst Thorians, he was little more than a suspected netkarthi, a being severed from the empathic consciousness that permeated the species. Here, it was the same thing.
They didn’t see Mikarik, they saw a Thorian.
In the galley that evening, Sivian, Eframe and Meslina came to find a Thorian, and so a Thorian he intended to be.
Today I decided to do a first of what I think would be a monthly type of post where I just give a bunch of little updates that are maybe too big for a tweet but too small to deserve their own entry.
New followers on Royal Road
I think I’d been stuck on 24 followers for The Bloodlet Sun on Royal Road for over a month and was getting a little down about being stalled. Now over the last couple of weeks I went up to 28 followers, and one of those include one “Favorite” bringing the total there up to 5. Not sure if it’s just the natural ebb and flow of things or whether the last couple of installments were particularly good for enticing new readers, but in any case, nice to see some growth there again.
Continued lack of success on Tapas
Things on Tapas, another website that hosts web novels, though it’s mainly a home for comics, have not been going well at all. I got two subscribers and a handful of views when I first launched there in early September, but since then, it’s been a ghost town. I haven’t even had a single view there in over a month and I’m not even sure how one is supposed to increase their exposure on that site. So this is still a bit of an experiment, though I’ll keep trying to figure it out.
Watched rejection never boils
I recently submitted to two science fiction journals which used the Moksha submission manager for their submissions, and the unique thing about this one over Submittable is that it shows your story’s position in their queue. Combine that with the quick turnaround of these journals and now I’m clicking refresh several times a day to see that number slowly go down. I don’t know why, but seeing my turn approaching in real time almost makes it feel more real and more likely for my story to get published. This however has not been the case since at the time of posting, both journals have now rejected me.
Should probably watch Squid Games
When I first heard of Squid Games I thought I would pass because I really have had my fill of grim dramas where I anticipate death or something else horrible happening at every turn (I can thank Game of Thrones for sapping me of most of that energy). Seeing though how much of a global phenomenon it is and the themes its exploring, I figure I will have to check it out at some point. With nine episodes at around an hour long it would take me like to the end of the year to finish it, and by that point, people would have moved on to something else.
Climax of Maple Vodka
I’ve recently talked about how excited I am that the first draft of my second novel is coming to an end and all of last week I was writing the build-up to the climactic scene. I feel like it’s taking me forever to get there, but I know on the page that many words would be read quite quickly. I’m just questioning whether I might be dragging it out too long because I myself don’t want to finally move beyond this point. No escaping it, though, if I had to guess, the pivotal point for the protagonist will finally be written either this week, or at the latest, the next. And after that, we’re on a train ride to the denouement and then completion.
The Forseti wasn’t the worst ship.
There were worse places he could die. Acknowledging this; however, provided Mikarik little comfort while he roamed the corridors of what was already essentially his tomb. Nor was his mood elevated by the fact that he had to spend his remaining time among Humans, each of whom seemed to be their own shade of surly. It even made him wonder if he would prefer the company of the Hatvan, the only species capable of making even a Thorian question their superiority just by the power of the withering arrogant looks that comprised the Hatvan’s neutral expressions.
The Human crew of the Forseti were enough to make Mikarik count the hours down to the next stasis rotation so he could have the ship mostly to himself. Never entirely though, and less frequently than he would have liked. That was one in a litany of reasons for his dissatisfaction with the Thorian Navy – too many people were always busying about.
The week-long collective nap the Forseti was taking prior to its scheduled arrival at Yshot Station was a welcome reprieve for Mikarik from its inhabitants. The worst of the lot was their Second-in-Command, Boro Stevin, pale for a Human, with a shrewd face and dark eyes that were somehow calculating and blank at the same time, like those of a predator roaming while sniffing out prey. The man wasn’t clever enough to hide that he had an angle but competent enough to hide what exactly that angle was. All this amounted to was a level of unpredictability that would do Mikarik no favours in the next phase of the mission.
A few days after resupplying at Yshot Station, the Forseti would enter Thorian space, and it would fall to Mikarik to ensure that they threaded the needle and remained undetected as they wound their way through Imperial space. All he had to do was get them deep enough. Everything that happened from there, he preemptively washed his hands of.
That also meant that soon some of his time would be spent on the bridge. Not only would this cut into his forays to other parts of the ship, but it would bring him into closer contact with Boro, an arrangement that didn’t promise to be pleasant for either of them; however short it might end up being.
Mikarik shook the thoughts from his mind, annoyed with himself that they kept returning to him that evening, though suspecting that it had something to do with the creeping feeling that had been following him. Every ship he’d ever been on, whether military, commercial, or pirate hunter, had its own rhythm, its own breath and its own pulse. Within days of boarding, Mikarik would seep into the ship and let the ship seep into him, able to intuit if anything was wrong – from an engine malfunction to a drop in morale. And that evening, something was quite clearly amiss.
Mikarik had gotten used to it by then – the feeling of eyes on him, both out in the open and those not wanting to be seen. At times, he could admit, it bothered him – to be walking around as a bumpy-headed embodiment of a five-thousand-year-old Empire that had long cast him to its periphery and left him likely sharing more in common with some of the Forseti’s crew than most of his own species. Other times, there was something almost enjoyable about the attention he was garnering, a certain kind of power he was able to wield with his presence alone, sowing discomfort and fear as he went. For Mikarik on the Forseti, the feeling of being watched was not a fancy of a paranoid mind, but the plain reality.
This new feeling of being ill at ease though was entirely different. There was something foul clogging up the arteries of the ship.
When he turned a corner on the way to the galley, he thought he momentarily saw a figure up ahead. One advantage of being up during the stasis rotation was that the Forseti’s lights were dimmed to a more natural level, so he had seen this shape with his own eyes instead of through the darkened lenses that were safely stowed away in his pocket.
He’d battled with space psychosis before – the social creature’s mind and its desperate attempt to manifest some company when it realizes it’s the only sentient being in a lightyear radius. For weeks he would wait as live bait in his modified freighter for pirates to strike, battling his brain’s urge to split itself apart to have lively conversations with itself. It had been, he believed, the main reason why he ultimately lost the ship he spent years saving for and then rebuilding – a lack of focus at the worst possible moment.
No, this figure near the galley wasn’t psychosis. The shape was real, squat and familiar. There was, in Mikarik’s estimation, plenty of good reason to turn back, to go to sleep on an empty stomach; maybe even to crawl into a stasis pod until they reached Yshot Station. There was; however, little they could do to hurt a dead man.
When he entered the empty galley, the lights came on automatically, meant to replicate the angry glare of the harsh yellow sun of the Human homeworld. He manually put most of the lights out, turning only a dimmed spotlight at his own table. The windows around the room that normally displayed passing landscapes were off, and Mikarik kept them that way. Meeron was kind enough to have prepped some food for those who were on shift during this period of stasis. Mikarik was sure that Meeron had no intention for his meals to fall into Mikarik’s hands, which made them taste that much better.
He had taken his time getting comfortable – heating the food to just the right temperature, adjusting himself in one of the more comfortable booths, pulling up the latest book he was reading on his tablet and propping it up into position at just the right angle next to his plate. It was one of those classic pieces of Thorian literature – lauded by outsiders as masterfully describing true Thorian nature but which for those who lived that nature came off as dry tomes suitable only to torture schoolchildren. His first forkful had almost made it to his mouth when the doors to the galley opened and Officer Meslina walked in.
She did not immediately walk out. That was a concern.
Moments later, he heard the other door open and looking over his shoulder found that the Human Eframe Gonsyn and Sivian the Nabak had walked in. The Human and the Nabak stood in silence with such deliberate grimness, Mikarik had to keep himself from laughing. “There’s still some food left over in cold storage. So pull up some chairs?”
“You talk a lot, Thorian,” Sivian said, his voice gravelly with that distinct Nabak growl.
“Oh, Sivian, I thought we’d be on a first name basis by now,” Mikarik said.
I’m not going to lie – I’m actually appreciative right now of the fact that it’s October, though this has nothing to do with the fact that everything has exactly one flavour right now. Not that I have anything, you know, philosophically against pumpkin spice latte, I just don’t go crazy over it.
Firstly, I’m just glad that September is behind us. The problems that September has brought are still here, mind you, with our fourth wave of COVID and being faced with uncertainties about kids going back to school, but now it feels like a “new normal”, our approximately eighth new normal in the last year and a half because people, collectively, are too impatient to actually buckle up and try to solve a problem.
Secondly, we can put a nice firm lid on the atrocious and frankly scary summer that we’ve experienced here, where in a city that’s famous for its rain we’ve had both a heat dome, which was apparently the deadliest weather event we’d ever had, which would have been bigger news if we didn’t have a health officer who had no idea what they were doing, and months on end without rain, which also would have been bigger news if we weren’t so focused on the pandemic. Now it’s seasonably cool and raining and we could forget about this temporarily until we see what next summer brings.
Did I say I’m feeling better? Might have meant “bitter”.
Then there’s also my lack of running as a result of the added time pressures and stress of home schooling the kids. I swear it’s some kind of curse – I post on here for the first time about my running and immediately enter a running slump where I’ve only run like four times in all of September.
Okay, I promise this was supposed to have been a positive post.
Mostly I think I like that October started because I’m fine with using arbitrary calendar cutoffs to refocus on new beginnings.
I want to for real put all the things I talked about above behind me (with the exception of this one last cathartic blog post).
I want to embrace the cooler weather instead of griping about it like I do every year, and look forward to everything this season brings. Already on Saturday I went for a walk with our kids and found a lane filled with chestnuts that have littered the sidewalk and lawns with the shiny brown nuts and their thorny shells. The kids had an absolute time of it, the younger one being endlessly fascinated by shells that contained two nuts, the second one always ending up tiny. It also gave me an opportunity to share with the kids an embarrassing story from when my wife and I first started dating, and I picked up a chestnut to throw at the ground and then it bounced up and hit her in the eye. I think my seven-year-old now is really getting the concept of the fact that his parents were once younger and found the story hilarious and now wants to hear every single embarrassing thing from when we were teenagers but I don’t think he’s quite ready for that.
And although Vancouver’s is not quite as spectacular as most of Canada’s, there’s the leaf fall to look forward to, and Halloween, and then my birthday right around the corner. And the fogs that roll in that always make for the best photos, and weather that might finally make me switch to pants for the next few months. Cozy nights under blankets and good excuses to make hot chocolate. Hot showers after rainy morning runs. Putting up the Christmas lights way too early.
See, told you this was going somewhere good.
And I’ve decided, so will October.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.